Blog - It's all Greek to me!!!!

Life in Greece with a Jewish twist

A broken left arm and a right outlook

On Monday, I took my daughter Hanna to the hospital to check if her left hand healed correctly: last month, she fell down on the sidewalk one morning while running to catch the school bus, and she had to wear a cast for 3 weeks.

You never have “a good time” in a hospital (unless it’s for a birth, and still it’s no piece of cake if you are the one giving birth!), but this is even more true in a Greek (public) hospital. First, I had to take a number to pay for the visit. One small problem: the employee taking care of our kind of external visits was nowhere to be seen… Along with fellow parents (this was in “paidon”, a children’s hospital), we were wondering what was going on. The answer was simple: the lady showed up after 20 minutes with a hot cup of coffee and a sandwich…

After we paid, we went to the orthopedic section, stressed that we were late for the appointment. No need to worry:  the doctor had not arrived yet! He arrived leisurely 25 minutes later… The appointment itself lasted only five minutes, enough to check that indeed, Hanna’s hand was healed, thank G-d.

I am told that the situation is different in private (expensive) hospitals… I hope not to need to check it for myself ;)

Hanna was delighted that her hand was OK. She had been extremely annoyed with her cast, because she could not participate in many activities and especially in sports, which she enjoys a lot. Once, when she was complaining about her cast, she asked me: “What good could possibly be in a broken hand?!!!!”.  I always tell her to look at the good in things, and to learn even from mistakes, so I answered her: “Let’s think about it. What do you say?”. After a while of thinking, she said: “Well, first, after I take off my cast, I will really appreciate the use of my hand! Also, I’m now learning to do everything with one hand, and like this I will be ready when I have children and I’ll have to do things while holding my baby!!!”  Her answers were much better than anything I could have thought about! I was impressed by my daughter’s imagination and learned a lesson from her… You can always find something positive everywhere, you just have to look hard and long enough…

What’s in a name?

I’ve been blogging a lot about current events lately (Mumbai terror attacks, Athens riots, War in Gaza) and have left aside a little bit the Shabbat reports. So here I’m back, with last week’s edition: all about names…

The Parasha of the week warranted this topic. In Hebrew the book of Exodus is actually called “Shemot”, “Names”, because it opens with the names of the Israelites who descended to Egypt. It became the title of the whole book to stress the importance of a name: the Israelites kept their names, clothes and language, even in Egypt, and preserving their identity was the key to their redemption. That’s how we got started on the stories of the names of each of our guests...

Hadar told us that many people mistake him for a female when communicating via email (since Hadar is a popular female name in Israel), even thought the first Hadar in the Bible was a male. I myself made the mistake and was quite surprised when he first showed up after our email communications J

Daniel’s parents just liked this name…. (and I agree with them!). Ronen told us that some of his relatives actually changed their name according to Kabbalah. The name of a person is connected to its essence, and that’s why we sometimes add the name “Rafael” (G-d will Heal) or “Chaim” (Life) to seriously ill persons.

For Jordan, his name reminds him of the strength of the Jordan River… The Jordan River receives its water from the Hermon Mountain, and gives it over to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea, on the contrary, just keeps all the water to itself, that’s why it is called “Dead”… When you receive without giving, there is no life...

 Itschak from Argentina, acted out the meaning of his name, which means laughing in Hebrew, and told us some good jokes… Shulamit, his wife, carries the name of her grandmother, who perished in the concentration camps. Shulamit’s mother was saved in an extraordinary story: She and her family were brought from the Lodz ghetto to Auschwitz, and, being a weak young girl, she was put in the line going to the gas chambers (of course, she did not know it at the time). Suddenly, a German soldier approached her and told her to stay close to him and follow him: he brought her to the other line of people who were eventually brought to Bergen-Belsen to work. This German soldier had come to Poland before the war and ordered clothes from her father, who was a tailor, and he recognized her, and actually saved her life.

Jessica Rose, from Chicago, is named after her grandmothers, both named Rose. It seems that Rose was a popular name in the 30’s, while Jessica became a popular name in the 90’s: she was one of 4 Jessica’s in her class! This reminded me of a story: a couple came to a Rabbi, arguing about the name of their son, each one wanting to give the name of his own father. “What is your father’s name?” inquired the rabbi. “Chaim” answered the man. “What was your father’s name?” the rabbi asked the woman. “Chaim!” she answered. “Well, what’s the problem, then?” the Rabbi asked puzzled. “I want the boy to be named after MY father!” cried the man. “And I want to name him after MY father!” the woman replied. “What was your father’s job?”  the rabbi asked the man. “He was a wagon driver”. “What about your father?” the rabbi turned to the woman. “He was a Rabbi”. “Ok,” said the rabbi, “We will call him Chaim. Then he will decide after which grandfather he will be named. If he grows up to be a wagon driver, he will be named after your father, and if he becomes a rabbi, it will be after your father!!!” J

This actually brings out a deep truth: while the name of a person is given at birth by his parents, each one acquires for himself his or her own name, his reputation and the way he is known in the world. As is said in the Mishna (Avot 4:13): “There are 3 crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of Kehuna (priesthood) and the crown of Royalty, but the crown of a good name is more important than all of them”.

5 problems with the media coverage of Israel

1) It goes for sensationalism.

Journalists unfortunately fail many times to do correctly their job and instead go for the easy target, the sensational items, rather than doing research and presenting all the sides and nuances of one story.
Of course, it’s tempting to show powerful and shocking images which will generate a lot of emotion, and attract large audiences. Images of human tragedy, of blood, death, catastrophe, of children and women, appeal to the basics instincts of people, and never fail to deeply impress the viewers. What lacks is the context of the pictures, the background of the conflict. Even if it is (briefly) described, it lacks the powerful sensationalism of one such picture. The media ends up presenting simplistic stories of good guy versus bad guy, of poor weak children against powerful heartless soldiers, of “David against Goliath”. Such basic black and white stories fascinate the average public which fails to go a little deeper in the report and understand the various dimensions of the situation.

Also Israelis (Jews) have a different sensibility regarding dignity and respecting the wounded and dead: they are reluctant to show off their victims whereas Palestinians don’t hesitate to display their casualties.

2) It relies on Palestinian or Pro-Palestinian sources.

The media, many times, just relays information from Palestinian sources or other biased pro-Palestinian activists without checking them. The problem here is clear: Palestinians have shown more than a few times that their allegations are grossly exaggerated if not altogether fabricated. Many times, the casualties turn out to be less than what was claimed by Palestinians in the beginning. An example that stands in my memory is the “massacre” of Jenin in 2002, where 500 dead were announced, which turned out to be about 50-60 dead (including terrorists). (as shown here, here, or here)

[Of course, this is not to reduce the gravity of the situation and imply “only” 60 dead, each innocent life claimed is one too much (not that all the dead were innocent, many were armed men), but it is to prove the gross disparity between the claims of the Palestinian sources widely relayed in the media and the actual truth].

Another recent example are the claims of a Norwegian doctor, supposedly objective humanitarian personnel, who entered Gaza on December 31, 2008: many news outlets relayed his declarations about “Israel targeting deliberately Palestinian population”, “50 percent of the casualties being women and children” and even “Israel using unconventional weapons”. Well, it turns out that Dr Gilbert, far from being a simple humanitarian helper, is a radical Marxist and a member of the political Red (Rodt) party, a revolutionary socialist party in Norway. He has been a pro-Palestinian activist since the 1970's and has long been a vocal opponent of Israel and the U.S. Gilbert has acknowledged that he cannot separate politics from medicine, stating, "there is little in medicine that is not politics". Read more about Gilbert’s real agenda. Is he an impartial observant? Can we rely on him to objectively describe the reality? At the very least, media should present him and a pro-Palestinian activist and not just as a doctor on a humanitarian mission.

Finally, many “spontaneous pictures” are staged, many of the “events” are put in place by Palestinians just for the eye of the camera, a phenomena which has been called “Pallywood” a contraction of Palestine and Hollywood. Sometimes, props are added to make the picture more sensational. Many of those fake images are then presented in worldwide media as genuine. (Examples here, here here and here).   

3) There is no freedom of speech in Palestinian territories.

Journalists are often intimated by the terrorist tactics of Palestinians. They are often scared of showing the Palestinians in negative light, because their security would not be insured anymore, or they would not be given access to the Palestinian territories or officials. David Schlesinger, Reuters general editor, admitted that they avoided using the word “terrorist” because of the ‘serious consequences’ it would have on their journalists in the Middle East.  In the same manner, Palestinian citizens are often scared of criticizing their leaders, lest they become the victims of revenge killings.

I remember that the Italian journalist who released the coverage of the barbaric lynch of 2 Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian mob in October 2000, with the shocking image of a Palestinian man at the window showing his hands full of blood, (which showed a little bit what Palestinian violence is about), then apologized to the Palestinian authority for releasing the footage and claimed he was not responsible for diffusing it to the world.

4) “Bad” news for Israel are largely publicized, the rectifications not so much.

This problem stems from the previous one, relying on biased sources. News putting Israel in a negative light, such as allegations about massacres, unconventional weapons etc. are widely disseminated. The problem is that when more impartial sources tell the truth, it receives a much less prominent exposure. What happens is that what stays in the memory of people are the extravagant accusations about Israel, even after they have been refuted.

A recent example: The accusations that Israel illegally used white phosphorus were widely taken up in the media (over 1500 “diggs”  ) while the refutation by the Red Cross, denying that there was any indication of illegal use of this material only got over 200 “diggs”. What does this mean? That news portraying Israel as a criminal aggressor are more “popular” than factual news describing a more balanced or even righteous (!) Israel.

One consequence of this fact is that it creates in the mind of people, including journalists, a distorted image of Israel which makes them ready to accept any horror stories told by Palestinians, without further checking them. Or it causes journalists to interpret pictures or facts automatically in disfavor of Israel, without further checking facts. For example, this picture which was first described in the New York Times as a Palestinian boy beaten by an Israeli soldier whereas the boy was actually a Jewish student wounded by Palestinians which was being brought to safety by the soldier. Or watch this footage of a Palestinian mother carrying her dead 6 year old son killed by a bullet. The first commentary attributes the bullet to the IDF forces, while the second coverage (which was later acknowledged as accurate even by Palestinians) explained that the bullet was shot by a Palestinian militant, which ricocheted and killed the little boy.

The more you hear about Israel “crimes”, the more prone you will be to believe them. The media prejudice feeds itself.

5) Disproportionate coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since its beginning, receives a completely disproportionate amount of news coverage, in comparison to the geographical surface area (Israel is smaller than the Peloponnesus, as big as the New Jersey state), its population, its strategic interest to the world, the amount of victims. A study in 2004 has found that Israel receives approximately 75 times more coverage than other areas of equal population. In comparison to other nations involved in armed conflict (where world media attention increases), Israel receives over 10 times more coverage by population. Other conflicts (Darfur, Congo, Sri Lanka, Soudan, Chechnya etc.)  have many more casualties, yet receive almost no coverage, let alone the barrage of journalists, newspaper articles etc. that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gets. Nor do people get so passionate about them. Why is that?

Actually the Toronto Star ran a commentary about Sri Lanka (in the height of the Gaza crisis), mentioning that the conflict with the Tamils barely gets a mention in the media.

Israel has a very high number of permanent foreign correspondents, which are joined by many more journalists in times of crisis. For instance, some 350 reporters arrived to Israel this time, adding up to the 900 press media personal permanently stationed there.

This media pressure actually stirs the fire of the conflict, amplifying each event, exacerbating passions. Manipulation becomes easy and rewarding, since it is sure to attract attention and receive an echo all over the planet. Extremists and violence are given a large podium, every small incident becomes a news item, and the peace process, which was difficult to start with, becomes even more difficult to achieve: peace, which is a slow process of painful concessions, of getting closer, learning to live next to each other and eventually cooperate, can difficultly develop under such tensed conditions.

Also, this media overexposure (mainly in a negative light for Israel, as we know) creates strong anti-Israel feelings around the world, bordering on anti-Semitism. People are left to believe that Israel is the one of greatest threats to world peace, as was shown in a study conducted by the European commission in October 2003, which found that Israel has been described as the top threat to world peace, ahead of North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran. This, all the while Israel is actually the only democracy in the Middle East region, has said and showed many times it is willing to make significant concessions for peace, and has managed to achieve so much in the fields of medicine, technology, research etc.

[Not all critics of Israeli actions or Israeli governments are anti-Semitic, but when one condemns the mere existence of Israel and its right to protect itself, or systematically denounces and vilifies Israel, then no matter what you call it, anti Zionism or anti Imperialism or whatever, it is anti Semitism, as Martin Luther King has said: “when they say Zionists, they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism”.]

Please see also “Myths and facts about Middle East coverage”

The Israeli operation in numbers


•  More than 9440 missiles and rockets fired at Israel from the Gaza strip since 2003 (more than 5 missiles per day on average)

• More than 3200 missiles and rockets fired on Israel from the Gaza strip only during the year 2008, even though there was 6 month of official « respite » - an average of 9 missiles per day.

• More than 6500 missiles and rockets fired at Israel from the Gaza strip since Israel evacuated completely the Gaza Strip in summer 2005.

•  More than 647 missiles and rockets fired at Israel since December 19, 2008, the date that the « respite » officially finished until the beginning of operation “Cast Lead”

• More than 400 missiles and rockets were fired by the Hamas since the beginning of the operation “Cast Lead”.


• 750.000 Israeli civilians live within the fire range of the missiles of the Hamas.

•  More than 1000 wounded and 34 Israeli civilians dead since 2003, victims of Hamas shots from the Gaza strip.

•  15 seconds only: this is the time that Israeli civilians have to find a shelter when the sirens announce that a rocket was launched.

• 8 years of restraint and moderation where Israel explored and tried all options to stop the blind fire of the Hamas against the civilian population of Southern Israel.


The war in Gaza viewed from Greece

The average Greek person who takes his clues and information only from the mass media probably believes that Israel, one sunny morning, decided it was bored, or that it wanted to check out new weapons, or that they wanted to celebrate the holiday season and decided: Hey, let’s go bomb the Palestinian women and children!!!

I do not watch or read a lot of the media here, because it makes me too sick. Almost nowhere is the Israeli side presented, almost nowhere can you see mention of the thousands of rockets that were falling in southern Israel for the last 8 years, endangering and making the life of the civilians miserable (not even talking about the material damage), almost nowhere do you read that the Hamas tactics is to hide in schools, hospitals and amongst civilians, while Israel makes every effort to strike with precision and avoid as much as possible civilian casualties. (I’m not even talking about the anti-Semitic occasional insinuations or allusions of the media).

The following cartoon, first published in the Washington post, makes the point:





Why is the media just giving rough counts of the Palestinian dead, without mentioning what is the proportion of armed men? People would then learn that at least ¾ of the victims are terrorists or fighters (whatever you want to call them).

I wonder if people really believe that Israel targets civilians intentionally, and if they realize that on the other hand, Hamas does target civilians, very intentionally… 

Anyhow, when fed with so much one sided views of the news and powerful images, I am not surprised at the outcome (or is there also another underlying reason for these demonstrations?).  Watch the following clip of the violent protests outside of the Israeli embassy in Athens, last week.


 On a different note, I wonder how many of these people are out in the streets demonstrating against any other human rights violations (in their eyes), how much they really care about the world suffering at large and where are they when it’s time to denounce other countries with wars and conflicts, besides for Israel (and the USA)…

A few interesting links:

- "How do I explain Israel's actions?" - by Aaron Moss

- "Some more journalistic bias, please?  - by Naftoli Siverberg

- In French: "Gaza, une riposte excessive?" , by Andre Glucksmann

Check out also the war in Gaza section of our website.

Last (but not least), I opened a second blog called JewTube, which will feature a collection of Jewish related Youtube videos. So far, they are mainly about the conflict in Gaza and the Israeli side...

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